The Worst Frequent Flyer Program Nominee

I love the challenge of optimizing my frequent flyer mile and point redemptions to travel around the world. It’s the only way I could afford to travel, really. The US is very lucky with airlines offering some of the best loyalty programs out there even when foreign carriers offer superior aircraft and service products. But it amazes me how bad some foreign loyalty programs really are. The worst I’ve had to deal with is Airpoints from Air New Zealand, and I’ll explain why giving examples from my upcoming trip to the Pacific.

So my goal is to use my New Zealand based Airpoints to book a one way trip between Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. I say NZ based because Air New Zealand treats Australian Airpoints and American Airpoints very different from New Zealand Airpoints. 1 Airpoint equals $1 of the currency where you first registered your program. So 1 Australian Airpoint is NOT equal 1 New Zealand Airpoints because $1 AUD does not equal $1 NZD. And this little nugget has been the cause of much of my frustration trying to burn the damn NZ Airpoints I’ve accumulated for something more useful then letting them expire.

Last week Air New Zealand announced a 24 hour Australia sale.

The Auckland to Sydney route was advertised at $159 NZD outbound and $206 NZD on the reverse trip, on the Kiwi web site. The Sydney to Auckland route on the Aussie web site was advertised at $179 AUD for the leg that I was interested in booking. However, when I tried to use my NZ Airpoints for this booking the Aussie web site booted me to the Kiwi web site, where the route re-priced at $317 NZD without any sale in sight even though it was clearly coming up through both web sites separately. The global web site, or the American web site as I like to call it because the prices come up in American dollars, was quoting the same trip at $250 USD. So you got three Air New Zealand sites quoting four very different prices for the same exact trip:

$179 AUD = $133 USD (Australian sale price o/w purchase)

$206 NZD = $139 USD (Kiwi sale price based on r/t purchase)

$317 NZD = $214 USD (Kiwi regular price, based on o/w purchase)

$250 USD (American regular price, based on one way purchase)

Now, Air New Zealand is not the only carrier out there that publishes different pricing based on the country of origin. But when it comes to redeeming frequent flyer miles or points, it is generally a common practice to have the  value of airline’s miles or points not change from country to country, there’s some predictable consistency… the airline’s frequent flyer miles or points are the currency of that airline independent of the currencies of the countries where that airline operates. Air NZ has to be the only one that doesn’t follow this model, and it’s totally one sided. I’m sure it benefits Air NZ greatly, but me as a consumer: not so much.

The other unfair practice is the redemption of the Airpoints towards the purchase of the flight. I recently booked Auckland to Rarotonga using one of Air NZ’s sales. The price was advertised at $209 NZD one way, and I booked it using my Airpoints, where only 177 Airpoints  were applied to the purchase and the rest I had to pay in cash. Try doing that the other way around. Say I would accept the ridiculous $317 NZD price for a $133 AUD sale ticket, and I wanted to pay partially with Airpoints and the rest with cash, you are not allowed to do it. Air New Zealand will not take my 100 or 200 Airpoints as credit towards partial payment for a ticket if I don’t have enough to cover the air ticket portion of the price, the tax they collect in cash. Not cool at all.

Saying all this, Air New Zealand is actually a great airline to fly and I have a number of flights booked with them on this trip already using their Star Alliance partner United Airlines. I am very much looking forward to the All Black planes and the outstanding service on board. But I’m frustrated to no end about their sneaky loyalty program operation that does not allow me as a consumer to burn off the Airpoints I had collected because of all the damn restrictions.

So shame on you Air New Zealand!


Frequent Flyer programs theoretically are meant to reward loyalty not punish customers by making it impossible to use the points or miles. I will have to get creative with my redemption though… considering it’s possible to book the SYD-AKL trip outright for less than $130 USD using third party sites like Expedia or Orbitz (and even less when one of those American sites announce a sale). And then maybe dump the remainder of my Airpoints on a round trip flight within New Zealand… I’ve never been to Queenstown, Dunedin or Invercargill on the southern tip of the South Island… I wouldn’t mind going there for FREE… the only deficit I have at this point is the limited time I am spending in New Zealand overall….    so the challenge for the most exotic road trip continues!

kiwi all blacks air new zealand